Covid Live Updates: C.D.C. Is Investigating Rare Heart Problem After Vaccinations

Get the latest on Covid-19.,

Last Updated June 12, 2021, 12:26 a.m. ETJune 12, 2021, 12:26 a.m. ET

The F.D.A. told Johnson & Johnson that 60 million doses can’t be used because they might have been contaminated. The W.H.O. set a target for countries to inoculate 10 percent of their populations by September. Africa is likely to fall short.

A nurse prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Albuquerque at the end of May. As of May 31, 216 people had experienced heart problems after one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, and 573 after the second dose. Most cases were very mild.
A nurse prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Albuquerque at the end of May. As of May 31, 216 people had experienced heart problems after one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, and 573 after the second dose. Most cases were very mild.Credit…Paul Ratje for The New York Times

Federal officials are reviewing nearly 800 cases of rare heart problems following immunization with the coronavirus vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, according to data presented at a vaccine safety meeting on Thursday.

Not all of the cases are likely to be verified or related to vaccines, and experts believe the benefits of immunization far outweigh the risk of these rare complications. But the reports have worried some researchers. More than half of the heart problems were reported in people ages 12 to 24, while the same age group accounted for only 9 percent of the millions of doses administered.

“We clearly have an imbalance there,” said Dr. Tom Shimabukuro, a vaccine expert at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who presented the data. Advisers to the agency will meet on June 18 to explore the potential links to the complications: myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle, and pericarditis, inflammation of the membrane surrounding the heart.

About two-thirds of the cases were in young males, with a median age of 30 years. The numbers are higher than would be expected for that age group, officials said, but have not yet been definitively linked to the vaccines.

As of May 31, 216 people had experienced myocarditis or pericarditis after one dose of either vaccine, and 573 after the second dose. Most cases have been mild, but 15 patients remain in hospitals. The second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was linked to about twice as many cases as the second dose of the vaccine made by Moderna.

There were 79 reported cases of the heart problems among those 16 or 17 years old, compared with a maximum of 19 cases expected for that group. And in the group of young people ages 18 to 24 years, there were 196 cases, compared with an expected maximum of 83.

But the true incidence may be lower, Dr. Shimabukuro said. Immunizations of younger teenagers began only last month, and data from that age group in particular are limited.

Preparing Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine in Staten Island in April.
Preparing Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine in Staten Island in April.Credit…Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Federal regulators have told Johnson & Johnson that about 60 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine produced at a troubled Baltimore factory cannot be used because of possible contamination, according to people familiar with the situation.

The Food and Drug Administration plans to allow about 10 million doses to be distributed in the United States or sent to other countries, but with a warning that regulators cannot guarantee that Emergent BioSolutions, the company that operates the plant, followed good manufacturing practices.

The agency has not yet decided whether Emergent can reopen the factory, which has been closed for two months because of regulatory concerns, the people said.

The Johnson & Johnson doses administered in the United States so far were manufactured at the firm’s plant in the Netherlands, not by Emergent. For weeks the F.D.A. has been trying to figure out what to do about at least 170 million doses of vaccine that were left in limbo after the discovery of a major production mishap involving two vaccines manufactured at the Baltimore factory.

More than 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson and at least 70 million doses of AstraZeneca were put on hold after Emergent discovered in March that its workers had contaminated a batch of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine with a key ingredient used to produce AstraZeneca’s. Federal officials then ordered the plant to pause production, stripped Emergent of its responsibility to produce AstraZeneca’s vaccine and instructed Johnson & Johnson to assert direct control over the manufacturing of its vaccine there.

Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine was once considered a potential game-changer in the nation’s vaccine stock because it required only one shot and was particularly useful in vulnerable communities. But the federal government now has an ample supply of the vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, the two other federally authorized vaccine developers, and no longer needs Johnson & Johnson’s supply.

Still, the loss of 60 million Johnson & Johnson doses puts a dent in the Biden administration’s plan to distribute vaccines to other countries that are still in the grip of the pandemic. The administration had been counting on sharing doses of both Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca but had to delay its plan while the F.D.A. completed a review of the facility.

After he arrived in Britain for the Group of 7 summit this week, President Biden announced he had found another source for donations. Pfizer-BioNTech has now agreed to sell his administration 500 million doses at cost for donation to low and lower-middle income countries over the next year. The World Health Organization estimates that 11 billion doses are needed globally to stamp out the epidemic.

Video

transcript

bars

0:00/1:00

-0:00

transcript

World Leaders Pose for ‘Family Photo’ at G7 Summit

Leaders from the Group of 7 nations arrived in England for the G7 summit, and posed on a beach for a “family photo” before resuming discussions on how to end the pandemic.

Here we go, everybody. Thank you very much.

Video player loading
Leaders from the Group of 7 nations arrived in England for the G7 summit, and posed on a beach for a “family photo” before resuming discussions on how to end the pandemic.CreditCredit…Pool photo by Neil Hall

The leaders of the world’s wealthiest democracies are expected to pledge one billion doses of Covid vaccines to poor and middle-income countries on Friday as part of a campaign to “vaccinate the world” by the end of 2022.

The stakes could hardly be higher.

“This is about our responsibility, our humanitarian obligation, to save as many lives as we can,” President Biden said in a speech in England on Thursday evening, before the meeting of the Group of 7 wealthy democracies. “When we see people hurting and suffering anywhere around the world, we seek to help any way we can.”

It is not just a race to save lives, restart economies and lift restrictions that continue to take an immeasurable toll on people around the globe.

Since Mr. Biden landed in Europe for the start of his first presidential trip abroad on Wednesday, he has made it clear that this is a moment when democracies must prove that they can rise to meet the world’s gravest challenges. And they must do so in a way the world can see, as autocrats and strongmen — particularly in Russia and China — promote their systems of governance as superior.

Yet the notion of “vaccine diplomacy” can easily be intertwined with “vaccine nationalism,” which the World Health Organization has warned could ultimately limit the global availability of vaccines.

When Mr. Biden announced on Thursday that the U.S. would donate 500 million Pfizer-BioNTech doses, the president said they would be provided with “no strings attached.”

“We’re doing this to save lives, to end this pandemic,” he said. “That’s it. Period.”

But even as wealthy democracies move to step up their efforts, the scale of the challenge is enormous.

Covax, the global vaccine-sharing program, still remains underfunded and billions of doses short.

The International Monetary Fund estimates that it will cost about $50 billion to help the developing world bring the pandemic to an end. In addition to the countless lives saved, the I.M.F. says that such an investment could bring a dramatic return: $9 trillion in increased global economic growth.

While the pandemic is at the center of Friday’s G7 agenda, with the leaders of the nations meeting face to face for the first time since the coronavirus essentially put a stop to handshake diplomacy, a host of other issues are also on the table.

Finance leaders from the G7 agreed last week to back a new global minimum tax rate of at least 15 percent that companies would have to pay regardless of where they locate their headquarters.

Beyond the specific issues, the summit will be a test of how institutions created in another era to help guide the world through crises can stand up to the challenges of today.

On Thursday, Mr. Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain turned to a World War II-era document to provide inspiration for a new generation of challenges, renewing the Atlantic Charter eight decades after it was signed to take into account the threats of today: from cyberattacks to nuclear, climate to public health.

The gathering of the G7 is also, in many ways, a relic of another era. It was created in the 1970s to provide economic solutions after a shock in oil supply triggered a financial crisis.

Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, said in a preview of the conference on Thursday that the “return of the United States to the global arena” would help strengthen the “rules-based system” and that the leaders of the G7 were “united and determined to protect and to promote our values.”

A new study from the C.D.C. found an increase in emergency room visits related to suspected suicide attempts among teenage girls in early 2021. Such visits remained stable for teenage boys.
A new study from the C.D.C. found an increase in emergency room visits related to suspected suicide attempts among teenage girls in early 2021. Such visits remained stable for teenage boys. Credit…Gabriela Bhaskar for The New York Times

Emergency room visits following suspected suicide attempts by teenage girls spiked in the first months of 2021, compared with rates in 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Friday.

The new study, which relied on data from the National Syndromic Surveillance Program, showed that visits to emergency rooms for suspected suicide attempts rose about 51 percent on average for girls aged 12 to 17 in the four weeks ending March 20, compared with the same period in 2019. The rate began rising in summer of 2020, the researchers said.

The numbers of suspected suicide attempts among boys the same age and adults of both genders aged 18 to 25 remained relatively stable, compared with the corresponding period in 2019, the study found.

“The findings from this study suggest more severe distress among young females than has been identified in previous reports during the pandemic, reinforcing the need for increased attention to, and prevention for, this population,” the C.D.C. said.

The report comes on the heels of other recent research that suggested higher rates of mental health problems among teenagers, including self-harm, suicide attempts and suicidal ideation, which some experts worry could be related to stressors from the pandemic.

But Ellen Yard, an epidemiologist and the study’s lead author, wrote in an email that “the analysis in this report was not designed to assess whether this increase was caused by Covid-19.”

“However, some researchers have suggested that the Covid-19 pandemic could increase suicide risk,” Dr. Yard continued. “Youth may have been especially impacted by mitigation measures such as social distancing (including a lack of connectedness to schools, teachers, and peers), barriers to mental health treatment, and family health and economic problems.”

The researchers also said that the jump in hospital visits for adolescent girls did not necessarily mean there had been more suicides. Referring to emergency department visits, the report said, “Importantly, although this report found increases in ED visits for suspected suicide attempts among adolescent females during 2020 and early 2021, this does not mean that suicide deaths have increased.”

According to provisional data from the C.D.C.’s National Vital Statistics System, suicides actually declined overall in the United States in 2020, to 44,834 deaths from 47,511 in 2019, though preliminary studies based on local data showed a rise in suicides among Black Americans and other people of color, compared with previous years.

John Ackerman, the suicide prevention coordinator at the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, said that the report matched his experience since the start of the pandemic.

Dr. Ackerman, who was not involved in the study, said that he had seen low rates of emergency room visits from teenagers for mental health issues early in the pandemic, perhaps because people were concerned about exposure to the virus, but that those numbers increased as the months wore on.

“You’ve started to see emergency departments, locally here in Ohio but also throughout the country, start to report really high rates of hospitalizations due to suicide attempts, depression, anxiety, self-injury, these types of presenting factors,” Dr. Ackerman said.

He said that the pandemic was an added source of anxiety for people in groups that are often at higher risk of suicidal thoughts, like people of color and L.G.B.T.Q. youth.

But there are many factors at play, Dr. Ackerman added, and the pandemic was just one among many stressors in what he called “a tumultuous year.”

“A lot of people have felt isolated, or invalidated, or feeling hopeless for many reasons, and all of those are risk factors for suicide,” he said.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). You can find a list of additional resources at SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources.

A nurse administering a Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, last month.
A nurse administering a Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, last month.Credit…Khasar Sandag for The New York Times

As the leaders of wealthy Western democracies step up their efforts to provide Covid-19 vaccines to the world, they are also racing to catch up with China’s moves to establish itself as a leader in the fight against the coronavirus.

Last summer, China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, heralded the promise of a Chinese-made Covid-19 vaccine as a global public good. So far, he appears to be making good on that pledge.

China now leads the world in exporting Covid-19 vaccines, cementing its bid to be a major player in global public health. The country’s vaccines have been rolled out to 95 countries, which have received more than 260 million doses, according to Bridge Consulting, a Beijing-based consultancy.

The World Health Organization recently approved the vaccines made by the Chinese companies Sinopharm and Sinovac for emergency use, giving Beijing’s reputation a further boost.

So far, China has taken a mainly country-by-country approach in doling out its vaccines. The country has given only 10 million doses to Covax, the global alliance backed by the World Health Organization to ensure that developing countries get access to affordable vaccines. But it has independently donated 22 million doses and sold 742 million doses, according to Bridge Consulting. Many of the donations were made to developing nations in Africa and Asia.

“China is picking countries that could potentially be coming back to China for more things in the future,” said Sara Davies, a professor of international relations specializing in global health diplomacy at Griffith University in Australia. “This is the start of a long-term relationship.”

But there are questions about the Chinese vaccines’ effectiveness, in particular those made by Sinopharm, a state-owned company. Countries that have vaccinated their populations widely with the Sinopharm vaccine, such as the Seychelles and Mongolia, have had new surges of the coronavirus.

The global rollout has also been dogged by delayed deliveries. China is struggling to manufacture enough doses of its two-shot vaccines to meet the needs of its 1.4 billion people and its customers abroad.

In April, Turkey’s health minister said that one reason for the country’s slow vaccination campaign was that Sinovac did not comply with a promised delivery schedule.

“This is not because of lack of production, but it is because Chinese government is using the vaccines for its own country,” the minister, Fahrettin Koca, was quoted in the Turkish press as saying.

In a regular news briefing on Thursday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman called on countries undertaking vaccine research and development to “assume their responsibility” and support Covax.

“As we all know, until recently, the U.S. has been stressing that its top priority with vaccines is its domestic rollout,” said the spokesman, Wang Wenbin. “Now that it has announced donation to Covax, we hope it will honor its commitment as soon as possible.”

Alexandra Stevenson contributed reporting, and Elsie Chen contributed research.

transcriptbars0:00/28:39-28:39

transcript

Listen to ‘The Daily’: Why Russia Is Exporting So Much Vaccine

Hosted by Sabrina Tavernise; produced by Rachelle Bonja, Rachel Quester, Alexandra Leigh Young and Leslye Davis; edited by M.J. Davis Lin and Lisa Chow; and engineered by Chris Wood. Special thanks to Sophia Kishkovsky.

Millions of doses of Russia’s pioneering coronavirus vaccine have gone abroad, strengthening the country’s influence at the expense of its people.

michael barbaro

From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is The Daily.

Today: When Russia developed a vaccine against Covid-19, it prioritized exporting it to dozens of foreign countries at the expense of its own people. Sabrina Tavernise spoke with our colleague, Andrew Kramer, about how Russia is attempting to use its vaccine to improve its strength and standing on the world stage.

[music]

It’s Monday, April 26.

sabrina tavernise

Andrew.

andrew kramer

Sabrina, hello.

sabrina tavernise

Hi. So why are we talking about Russia and vaccines?

andrew kramer

Well, this came as a surprise to I think a lot of people in 2020 when the pandemic began.

archived recording

The Russian government is saying it’s on track to approve a coronavirus vaccine in August, well ahead of other countries, including the U.S., the U.K.

andrew kramer

Russia very quickly announced that it was developing a vaccine against the coronavirus.

archived recording

The sheer speed at which Russian scientists have been able to develop this vaccine has raised a lot of eyebrows across the world.

andrew kramer

There was skepticism. There was certainly the feeling that that’s not likely to be much of a success given the disorganized state of Russian science. But by the middle of the year, they had already announced a working vaccine.

archived recording

Russia’s Sputnik vaccine is 91.4 percent effective according to the manufacturer. It’s got emergency clearance in 15 nations.

andrew kramer

If you look at the history, though, it’s less of a surprise.

sabrina tavernise

Tell me about the history, what do you mean?

andrew kramer

Well, the story really starts in the aftermath of World War I when the Soviet Union encountered quite a lot of infectious disease throughout its territory. One of the main focuses was confronting the bubonic plague. It seems like a ghost from the Middle Ages, but this was actually a serious problem in the Soviet Union in the 1920s. And the country set up what were called sanitary epidemiological stations, the equivalent of the C.D.C. in the United States. There were field stations to detect and contain infectious diseases. There was a lot of resources put into this. And by the 1930s, a Soviet effort to control infectious diseases had really focused on vaccines. And by the end of this decade, the Soviet Union was a global leader in virology and vaccine development, but it was not alone. The U.S. had also been through the Spanish flu and had been forced to develop expertise in vaccines and was making strides in this science, so that both the Soviet Union and the United States were very proficient in vaccine development.

sabrina tavernise

So these two countries were the global leaders in vaccines.

andrew kramer

That’s right. Particularly coming out of World War II, the Soviet Union and the United States were the global leaders in vaccine science. And the real concern in the late 1940s was polio.

archived recording

This year the enemy, poliomyelitis, struck with such impact and fury that it shook the entire nation.

andrew kramer

Polio was the most frightening disease around.

archived recording

It has closed the gates on normal childhood. It has swept our beaches, stilled our boats and emptied our pockets.

andrew kramer

It was the number one killer of children. And it has spread rapidly after the chaos of World War II.

archived recording

There has been no escape, no immunity, for this is epidemic.

andrew kramer

There were devastating polio outbreaks in the United States as well as in the Soviet Union. By the mid 1950s, the Soviet Union was reporting about 22,000 polio cases a year, which was about one third of the level of polio in the United States, but was still a tremendous problem and something that was very frightening to parents because it was an incurable disease and very often resulted in paralysis and sometimes in death.

sabrina tavernise

So by the 1950s, both the Soviet Union and the United States were experiencing really serious polio outbreaks. So what was the relationship between the two countries at the time?

andrew kramer

Well, it was complicated.

archived recording

Looking at Russia, we might see it as a country to be studied. Yet we know that Russia today is regarded as a grave threat to our nation.

andrew kramer

This was the beginning of the Cold War, the two countries were at odds, really, everywhere you looked.

archived recording

Berlin, powderkeg of Europe, saw a mass demonstration of indoctrinated young Germans on mayday. And across the world in Japan, America stronghold in the Pacific, the busy commies were at it again.

andrew kramer

There was military competition in Eastern Europe and in Southeast Asia.

archived recording

This first satellite was today successfully launched in the U.S.S.R.

andrew kramer

And the space race was just getting started at this time of the 1950s.

archived recording

On every continent and in every land, the story of Sputnik 1 dominated the front pages. The Soviets had scored a scientific first. It is a challenge that President Eisenhower has said, America must meet to survive in the space age.

andrew kramer

And there really wasn’t a whole lot of cooperation at all at this point.

sabrina tavernise

So the Soviet Union and the United States are really at odds. We’re at the beginning of the Cold War. Meanwhile, polio is spreading really fast in both countries. So how do these two governments respond?

andrew kramer

So the first vaccination efforts were carried out in the United States. There was an attempt to use killed — inactivated polio. Unfortunately, there was a bad batch of this polio vaccine, which infected hundreds of children in the United States and killed some of them, and created a lot of vaccine skepticism. And also, a realization that this approach to polio vaccine may not be the best and there might be a better way using a more modern technology, which was a weakened virus. But the problem was that this would require giving a live polio virus to children. And there was nobody really in the United States who wanted to run this experiment.

sabrina tavernise

And that’s because there had been this botched experiment in which children actually died.

andrew kramer

That’s right. And it was even more frightening to give your child a live polio virus as opposed to something that had been inactivated or supposedly inactivated. So while the technology was developed in the United States, there just was no way to test this in the United States.

sabrina tavernise

What about the Soviet Union? What is it doing?

andrew kramer

Well, in the late 1950s, a Soviet delegation traveled to the United States, led by a husband and wife team of virologists, Mikhail Chumakov and Maria Voroshilova. And they visited with American scientists and asked for a sample of this new polio vaccine to bring back to the Soviet Union. Now, the American scientists sought permission. They approached the State Department and the F.B.I., which provided approval for exporting essentially a brand new medical invention to the Soviet Union. According to a study of this exchange, the Defense Department raised objections with the Soviets might use it to develop a germ warfare program. But ultimately, the decision was made that this could be provided to the scientists. There could be scientific cooperation between the two countries. And the live polio vaccine sample was carried to the Soviet Union by one account in the pocket of Mikhail Chumakov.

sabrina tavernise

In the pocket?

andrew kramer

That’s right. It was more casual perhaps than it would be done today. This was a potentially risky live virus. The Soviet scientists brought it to his laboratory for infectious disease, tested it, determined that it would probably be safe and effective. But then there was the next step that had to be taken. This had to be tested on children.

sabrina tavernise

So what does Chumakov do?

andrew kramer

So in Soviet medicine, there was a tradition that the inventor of a new technique or new medicine should try this on himself first. So he discusses this with his wife, who’s also a virologist. And they decide that they will provide the live polio vaccine to their own young children on sugar cubes.

sabrina tavernise

Wow. That’s incredible. Their own children?

andrew kramer

That’s right. And this experiment was carried out in a Moscow apartment in the late 1950s. They had their own children line up and provided them with the sugar cubes with a drop of live polio virus on them and then watch to see what would happen.

sabrina tavernise

And what did happen?

andrew kramer

Well, thankfully, nothing.

It was a safe vaccine. They did not develop polio. What they did develop was immunity to polio because the virus was weakened and this was an effective vaccine. They took their findings based on this experiment on their own children to senior officials in the Soviet government. And as a next step, they tested the vaccine on orphans in the Baltic states, in Estonia and Latvia and Lithuania. There was a large polio outbreak in this area. And this was going to be the solution to the problem. And it was a gamble that paid off. By 1959, they had begun mass vaccinations. And in 1960, they vaccinated every person in the Soviet Union between the ages of two months and 20 years old. At the time, it was the fastest mass vaccination ever carried out. And they eliminated polio.

sabrina tavernise

Wow. And what about the U.S.? Does it start using the new polio vaccine, too?

andrew kramer

So the United States authorities agreed to approve this vaccine in the United States in 1962.

archived recording

The medical officer of health set the target, 300,000 men, women and children to be vaccinated in one week. And there’s no sore arm to worry about.

andrew kramer

And begin vaccination with live polio virus in 1963.

archived recording

[INAUDIBLE] treatment, two drops of vaccine make the dose [INAUDIBLE]. (SINGING) Hi ho, hi ho, hi ho, we’ll lick that polio.

andrew kramer

This was a collaboration which stood out in the Cold War.

archived recording

Dr. Sabin recently returned from travels to Europe where his journeys took him to Soviet Russia.

andrew kramer

The countries were in competition and yet —

archived recording (albert b. sabin)

I would say that the work on live polio virus vaccine and my associations with colleagues all over the world shows the capabilities and the possibilities of international cooperation on a large scale.

andrew kramer

Somehow the scientists were cooperating in solving the most feared infectious diseases of the time.

sabrina tavernise

So Andrew, this is all really surprising to me. It’s an example of something that’s actually hopeful — a real collaboration — at a time when the Soviet Union is considered a superpower in the world. Of course, we know, decades later, that the Soviet Union falls apart.

andrew kramer

That’s right. It was a very difficult time for Russians. Incomes plummeted. The store shelves were bare. And it was also a very difficult time for Russian scientists. What were once very prestigious jobs ended up paying just kopeks or pennies. And some scientists resorted to driving taxis, for example, to make a living. Also, abroad Russia’s international standing collapsed. The country was seen as a basket case. It was no longer one of the centers of power in the world. It was a recipient of international aid. And nonetheless, Russian scientists had a chip on their shoulder. They felt that they could achieve great things if they had resources. And Russia continue to be strong in science, and virology was one of those areas.

sabrina tavernise

That’s interesting. So these Soviet scientists and then later Russian scientists, they’re still developing vaccines? They keep going?

andrew kramer

They do. And they come out with announcements that nobody much believes that they’ve made progress on AIDS, for example. But then more recently, they developed a vaccine against MERS, which is very similar to the Covid-19. So when the coronavirus arrives, they’re ready to prove themselves to the world.

michael barbaro

We’ll be right back.

[music]sabrina tavernise

So Andrew, it’s 2020, and the coronavirus hits. Set the stage for us between the U.S. and Russia leading up to that.

andrew kramer

The relationship has gone dismally. Russia’s tried in various ways to regain influence in the world. And this has led to conflict with the United States. The relationship really worsened in 2014 when Russia intervene militarily in Ukraine. In 2016, Russia interfered in the U.S. elections in the United States. And there’s also been crackdowns at home against dissidents, in particular against the movement of Alexei Navalny. The United States has responded to these moves by Russia with sanctions. And the relationship is bad now. It’s really at the worst level that it’s been since the Cold War.

sabrina tavernise

So it seems pretty safe to assume that despite Russia’s history with vaccines, cooperation between the U.S. and Russia is probably pretty much out of the question, right?

andrew kramer

Right. There’s no question of collaboration now. The Russians begin a rush to develop a Covid vaccine as does the Western world and China. And the Russians fall back on these research institutes that have existed in their country for decades and begin developing a domestic Covid vaccine.

sabrina tavernise

And what does that actually look like on the ground in Russia?

andrew kramer

Well, there were a number of scientific institutes that all had vaccine ideas. And by May, an institute in Moscow seemed to be in the lead. And we learned about this because the scientist who was developing the vaccine went on television.

archived recording

[RUSSIAN SPEECH]

andrew kramer

To make the surprise announcement that he had injected himself with a test vaccine before animal trials had been completed.

sabrina tavernise

Oh, my goodness.

archived recording

[RUSSIAN SPEECH]

andrew kramer

This was, of course, a harkening back to the Russian scientific tradition of inventors trying their medicine on themselves first. But it was the first of several bold announcements by the Russians in the development of the vaccine that they eventually named Sputnik V.

sabrina tavernise

Sputnik, like the satellite?

andrew kramer

That’s right. The idea of the name was that this was a surprise to the Western world. The Sputnik satellite really indicated Russia’s supremacy in science in the 1950s. And it was way ahead of the United States in the space race. The Russians said, quite explicitly, that they viewed the vaccine in the same terms. That just as the Western world had heard the beeps of the radio of the Sputnik satellites circling the Earth, and that these beeps had indicated Russia was in the lead, they felt that their vaccine would be named Sputnik to indicate that it was in fact ahead of their vaccines.

sabrina tavernise

So it was a very intentional naming, a kind of glory days reference.

andrew kramer

Exactly. And a naming that also indicated they see this as a race, as the space race. And then they took it a step further.

archived recording (vladimir putin)

[RUSSIAN SPEECH]

andrew kramer

In August, Putin went on television and announced that he had approved the vaccine for general use.

archived recording (vladimir putin)

[RUSSIAN SPEECH]

sabrina tavernise

I do remember Putin coming out and saying they had this vaccine. But I also remember thinking it’s really early because no one else did yet. Is this real?

andrew kramer

It wasn’t really real. They had not tested the vaccine in late stage trials that were necessary to prove that it’s effective and safe. This was a propaganda move. And they were going to use the vaccine as a tool of influence in the world. And they began marketing it as a vaccine for all humankind.

sabrina tavernise

All right. So we’re getting new information, new data on Russia’s vaccine.

andrew kramer

They did eventually put the vaccine through trials. And when the results were in December, they were very good.

archived recording

It seems to contradict the skepticism that surrounded the heralding the jab by President Vladimir Putin back in August.

andrew kramer

The vaccine was more than 90 percent effective, which is comparable to the vaccines under development in the United States.

archived recording

It is one of only three vaccines with efficacy of more than 90%. Sputnik V is the vaccine for the mankind.

andrew kramer

Crucially, at about the same time, the Trump administration puts a ban on exports of U.S.-made vaccines, saying that the vaccines made in America should be used first to vaccinate American citizens. And this leaves Russia standing ready with a very effective vaccine.

archived recording

Russia is throwing its hat in the ring to be a global savior.

andrew kramer

Ready to make deals around the world at a time when the U.S. is not exporting any vaccine.

archived recording

Russia, for one, says it’s ready to send the E.U. 100 million doses of its Sputnik vaccine.

andrew kramer

The Russians don’t waste any time.

archived recording

Sputnik V’s global uptake is on the rise.

andrew kramer

They immediately start making export arrangements.

archived recording

Countries right now lining up for supplies of Sputnik V —

andrew kramer

Specifically intended to undermine U.S. interest and European Union interests. And it really is setting itself up as this vaccine supplier to the bad boys club.

sabrina tavernise

What does that mean the bad boys club? Who is that?

andrew kramer

Well, these are countries that are at odds with the West and which Russia has sidled up to perhaps for that reason. It markets the vaccine to Cuba, to Iran, to Syria, to parts of North Africa. Russia has friendly relations with Venezuela, with Belarus. So there are a collection of countries loosely aligned with Russia. And these are relationships which Russia would like to deepen and strengthen. There are other factors at play here as well. Russia is using the vaccine to win influence in battleground countries, countries that are wavering between Russia and the West, such as Ukraine, or Hungary, for example. There’s a very strong P.R. element to vaccine diplomacy. It really flips the narrative about Russia. It’s no longer a discussion of suppressing dissidents at home or massing military forces on a border with a neighbor, for example. This is a discussion about saving lives, providing medicine that’s in great demand today.

sabrina tavernise

What’s an example, Andrew, of how one of these deals works on the ground?

andrew kramer

One of the first countries that the Russians talked to was Brazil. Brazil is an important ally of the United States. It’s a major economic power in Latin America. And it was also an early target of Russian vaccine diplomacy. The U.S., we learned in January from documents released by the U.S. government, was working behind the scenes to prevent this from happening. And the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services disclosed that an American diplomat in Brazil had been arguing that the Brazilian government should reject the Russian vaccine because the vaccine was, in fact, seen as an agent of influence for the Russians in this important country. Now that was not a success. Brazil ultimately went with Russia for these supplies. And it illustrates well the weak hand that the United States has in vaccine diplomacy. On the ground, in situations like this, the United States has nothing to offer. The U.S. official could argue that Brazil should not take this lifesaving medicine from Russia, but they weren’t able to offer anything from the United States.

sabrina tavernise

All right. I mean, U.S. sounds like it doesn’t really have a card to play, right? I mean, on what basis should Brazil not accept the Russian vaccine? There’s effectively no alternative.

andrew kramer

Exactly. It showed the impotence of the United States in this contest that’s going on around the world over supply of vaccines. And Russia has gone from success to success in its vaccine diplomacy. For example, the European Union has been the target of a very effective vaccine diplomacy over the past several months. Two countries, Slovakia and Hungary, agreed to import Sputnik V vaccine. And this created a lot of discord within the European Union because the bloc had initially agreed to distribute vaccines equitably among its members. And they were breaking ranks with that policy. Also, the vaccine was not approved by European regulators. So this was creating discord within the European Union. And creating discord within the European Union has been a longtime goal of Russian diplomacy. And in this case, it was aided with the use of the vaccine. But it’s gone beyond that as well. The Russians have signed contracts with one region in Italy and with the state of Bavaria in Germany. So they’re winning customers now in the very heart of Europe.

sabrina tavernise

Yeah, these are core bloc states of the E.U.

andrew kramer

That’s right. And in countries that have been accepting the Russian vaccine, polls show that people trust it more than even vaccines made in the United States. For example, in Argentina and Mexico, polls have shown that more people trust the Russian made Sputnik V vaccine than American-made vaccines.

sabrina tavernise

That’s surprising.

andrew kramer

It is. And it’s been quite a benefit to Russia’s image around the world. Wherever we look in Russia’s vaccine diplomacy, it’s been quite effective politically and in terms of P.R. at the cost of, in fact, very small shipments of vaccine.

sabrina tavernise

What do you mean?

andrew kramer

For example, only tens of thousands of doses were sent to Bolivia in Latin America.

archived recording

Bolivian President Luis Arce has signed a contract for the supply of the Sputnik V vaccine to fight Covid-19.

andrew kramer

And yet the president of the country came to the airport to meet the airplane that delivered them.

archived recording

[NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

andrew kramer

Sometimes very small numbers of doses are sent to places that will seem to have a high impact in terms of media coverage.

archived recording

While the rest of Europe is still struggling with the vaccination campaign, the tiny Republic of San Marino is on its way to immunize most of its citizens.

andrew kramer

For example, in a staunch, Russia vaccinated the entire nation of San Marino with a population of 7,000 people.

archived recording

Thanks also to the use of Sputnik V, Russia’s vaccine.

andrew kramer

So the numbers have been quite small, but they’ve had a very large impact politically.

sabrina tavernise

So Andrew, in a way, this is making me think of how Russia has been acting ever since the Soviet Union collapsed. I mean, trying again and again on the world stage to prove it is still powerful, to prove it is still important. And these vaccines are a way to show that.

andrew kramer

It also shows it in a different way than what we usually think of Russia, when we think of Russia asserting its influence. Typically, Russia is seen as a villain when it sends troops into a neighboring country like Ukraine or assassins abroad to target enemies. But in the story of vaccines, Russia has really been a savior. It’s been able to present itself as a country that’s helping the rest of the world. And in this way, it’s a form of influence which is very difficult for the West to counter, for the West to stand up against. And when the pandemic is over, it’s likely that Russia will emerge because of this vaccine diplomacy, as a country with more friends and allies than it would have had had it not pursued this course.

sabrina tavernise

Thank you, Andrew.

andrew kramer

Thank you very much.

michael barbaro

So far, Russia has manufactured about 20 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine. Of those, it has exported about four million doses or one fifth to foreign countries instead of using them on Russians. As of this past weekend, Russia has fully vaccinated just 5 percent of its people. By comparison, the United States has fully vaccinated 27 percent.

[music]

We’ll be right back.

Here’s what else you need to know today. Over the weekend, President Biden recognized the mass killings of Armenians more than a century ago as a genocide, something never before done by an American president for fear of offending Turkey, which denies that the killings amounted to a genocide. The killings of Armenians occurred at the end of World War I during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, which later became Turkey. Ottoman Turks feared that Armenians would become allies with Russia, an enemy of the Ottoman Turks, and began forced deportations and killings of Armenians to avoid that possibility. In the end, as many as 1.5 million Armenians were killed. In response to Biden’s declaration, Turkey’s government vowed to defend itself against what it called “a lie.” Today’s episode was produced by Rachelle Bonja, Rachel Quester, Alexandra Leigh Young and Leslye Davis. It was edited by M.J. Davis Lin and Lisa Chow and engineered by Chris Wood. Special thanks to Sophia Kishkovsky.

That’s it for The Daily. I’m Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.

GLOBAL ROUNDUP

Administering the AstraZeneca vaccine at the military hospital in Milan in March. The country will stop distributing the vaccine to people below the age of 60.
Administering the AstraZeneca vaccine at the military hospital in Milan in March. The country will stop distributing the vaccine to people below the age of 60.Credit…Alessandro Grassani for The New York Times

Italy will stop administering AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine to people under the age of 60, the Italian government announced on Friday, amid a drop in the country’s level of infections that meant the risks of distributing the vaccine to younger people was judged to outweigh the benefits.

The AstraZeneca vaccine has been under scrutiny after a smattering of reports of rare and severe blood clots in those who had received the vaccine emerged in Europe.

Younger Italians who have already received one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine will get a different shot for their booster dose, said Francesco Paolo Figliuolo, an army general in charge of Italy’s vaccination effort, during a news conference. He added that the change would have minimal impact on the country’s vaccination rollout.

The announcement was the latest in a series of reversed decisions about the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was developed with Oxford University. Some doctors worry that the back and forth could further undermine the trust in the vaccine, and hamper Italy’s inoculation campaign.

Government regulators and AstraZeneca “communicated very very badly,” Roberto Burioni, one of Italy’s leading virologists, said in an interview. “We are losing the trust of even the most enthusiastic people.”

In Italy, as in other European countries, the rollout of AstraZeneca’s vaccine has been rocky. After the European Union approved its use in January, Italy recommended its use only for people under the age of 55.

The country then raised the threshold to 65 on Feb. 22, and then dropped the age limit March 8. A week later, Italy become one of a number of European countries to suspend using the vaccine altogether over concerns about the reports of rare, severe blood clots that afflicted a small number of recipients,.

Italy resumed using the vaccine March 19, but about two weeks later, after the European drug regulator reported a possible link to the rare blood clots, the government recommended reserving the vaccine for those over 60.

However, some Italian regions, in a rush to vaccinate as many people as possible, started offering AstraZeneca vaccines to younger people during “open day” and “open night” events that skipped the government’s priority schedule. Tens of thousands of young Italians signed up. In May, the board of scientific advisers to the government gave the reenlight to the “open” initiatives.

But some doctors raised objections, and news spread of an 18-year-old girl who had received a dose in the northern region of Liguria, was hospitalized with thrombosis and then died. On Friday, the government said the recommendation to only give the AstraZeneca vaccine to people over 60 had now become “mandatory.”

In other news around the world:

  • Greece detected its first confirmed case of the Gamma variant of the coronavirus, also known as P.1.2 and first detected in Brazil, the country’s National Public Health Authority said on Friday. Still, the average daily new cases is falling and the country has decided to allow vaccinated tourists to enter the country. Greece has steadily removed restrictions since May to try to revive its shuttered tourism industry.

  • The Philippines began loosening restrictions on movements across the capital, Manila, and nearby provinces, allowing a range of activities to restart, the government said on Friday. The government said indoor sports venues, such as gyms, fitness studios, skating rinks and racket sport facilities, would be allowed to reopen at about 30 percent of their capacity. Historical sites and museums would also be allowed to resume operations at limited capacity, but guided tours would remain prohibited. Older adults who had been fully vaccinated would be allowed to move more freely, with proof of inoculation.

Miriam Leah Zisman, who is expecting her first child, was discouraged from getting vaccinated by the conversations in her Orthodox Jewish community.
Miriam Leah Zisman, who is expecting her first child, was discouraged from getting vaccinated by the conversations in her Orthodox Jewish community.Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

In April, rumors began swirling in some New York City neighborhoods with large Orthodox Jewish communities about how the Covid-19 vaccine could pose a threat to women’s fertility.

In WhatsApp groups, recordings of rabbis warning against what they said were the vaccine’s adverse effects proliferated among mothers of teenage girls who don’t want their daughters vaccinated.

There is no current evidence that any vaccines, including Covid-19 vaccines, cause fertility problems. Many prominent mainstream Orthodox leaders in the New York region and in Israel, where the virus has all but disappeared, have advised their communities to get the Covid-19 shots.

But in ultra-Orthodox circles in New York — where women marry at a younger age and birthrates dwarf those of the general population — the spread of unsubstantiated rumors about the coronavirus vaccine’s potential adverse effects on fertility and pregnancy have been particularly effective in dissuading young women from getting the vaccine. These neighborhoods have some of the lowest vaccination rates in New York City.

A concern for New York officials is that vaccine resistance in Orthodox neighborhoods could play a part in endangering the city’s long-term prospects for recovery.

— Hannah Dreyfus

“Expect the Unexpected,” compiled from Dr. Anthony S. Fauci’s speeches and interviews, was prematurely listed for presale, a spokeswoman for the publisher said.Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

In the past few days, after the listing for a coming book by Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the Biden administration’s top adviser on Covid-19, was taken down from Amazon’s and Barnes & Noble’s websites, right-wing outlets and social media commentators spread the rumor that the it had been removed because of public backlash to the idea of Dr. Fauci’s “profiteering” from the pandemic.

In truth, Dr. Fauci is not making any money from the book, which is about lessons he has learned during his decades in public service, and the listing was pulled for a simple reason: the publisher had posted it too early.

Dr. Fauci “will not earn any royalties from its publication and was not paid” for the book, “Expect the Unexpected,” said Ann Day, a spokeswoman for National Geographic Books, its publisher. She said Dr. Fauci also would not earn anything for a related documentary. (Dr. Fauci did not respond to a request for comment.)

The book, which compiles interviews and speeches given by Dr. Fauci during his 37 years as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was taken off the websites because “it was prematurely posted for presale,” Ms. Day said. She added that proceeds would “go back to the National Geographic Society to fund work in the areas of science, exploration, conservation and education and to reinvest in content.”

In a statement, the national institute noted that the book had not been written by Dr. Fauci himself. The institute also confirmed that he would not earn any royalties from its publication.

The falsehood about the book and Dr. Fauci spread widely online. On May 31, the right-wing outlet The Daily Caller published an article about the book’s appearing for presale online. Some conservative Republicans, including Representatives Andy Biggs of Arizona and Dan Bishop of North Carolina, seized on the article and claimed without evidence that Dr. Fauci would be profiting from the book.

“His lockdown mandates destroyed livelihoods and threatened our children’s futures,” Mr. Bishop posted on Twitter on June 1. “Now he’ll be profiting nicely off it.” The post was liked and shared more than 2,700 times.

That same day, Newsweek and Fox News published articles highlighting the “backlash” that Dr. Fauci faced from right-wing commentators “for profiting from pandemic” after the announcement of his book. The articles did not mention that he would not make money from the book. They reached as many as 20.1 million people on Facebook, according to data from CrowdTangle, a social media analytics tool owned by the social network.

On June 2, a conservative outlet, Just the News, posted an article asserting that Dr. Fauci’s book had been “scrubbed” from Amazon and Barnes & Noble because of the backlash. The founder of the site, John Solomon — a Washington media personality who was instrumental in pushing falsehoods about the Bidens and Ukraine — tweeted the misleading article. So did the pro-Trump activist Jack Posobiec, who once promoted the false Pizzagate conspiracy.

“Books are removed from bn.com from time to time if the details are loaded incorrectly,” a Barnes & Noble spokeswoman said in a statement to The Times. “This book was not removed proactively by Barnes & Noble. We expect it will be available again shortly for purchase as soon as the publisher decides to list it.” Amazon did not comment.

Some articles on June 2, including on Fox News and The Daily Mail, included similar comments from National Geographic Books. But many outlets on the far right continued to push the version of events that the book had been “scrubbed” from online listings because of the backlash, without the updated information. The articles collected more than 32,000 likes and shares on Facebook and reached as many as six million people on Facebook, according to CrowdTangle data.

Days later, people like the Fox News host Sean Hannity and Representative Ronny Jackson, a Republican from Texas and former President Donald J. Trump’s onetime doctor, continued to push the false idea on Twitter.

“Anthony Fauci is set to make a fortune on his upcoming book; meanwhile our country continues to SUFFER from his ENDLESS non-scientific policies,” Mr. Jackson said on Twitter. His post collected nearly 4,000 likes, comments and shares.

Jacob Silver contributed research.

Bodyboarders in Makapu'u, Hawaii, in March. Currently, to visit the islands or move between them, travelers have to show a negative coronavirus test taken within 72 hours.
Bodyboarders in Makapu’u, Hawaii, in March. Currently, to visit the islands or move between them, travelers have to show a negative coronavirus test taken within 72 hours.Credit…Michelle Mishina Kunz for The New York Times

Hawaii has had the strictest entry rules of any American state since the onset of the pandemic. In recent days, Gov. David Ige has issued a series of guidelines on reopening, including an end to testing and quarantining for vaccinated travelers once 60 percent of the state’s residents are fully vaccinated (it’s currently at 53 percent).

His words were welcomed by travelers eagerly planning trips to the islands. But for many who have recently been to the state — and locals who have traveled between the islands — the governor’s plans come a little too late and after causing a great deal of confusion, frustration and what they say is wasted money.

At the moment, to visit the islands or move between them, travelers have to show a negative coronavirus test taken within 72 hours — whether they have been vaccinated or not. These tests range in price, with some paying $200 or $300.

Vaccinated travelers complain that the tests are expensive and unnecessary and that getting the correct information about what is required is too difficult.

“Today’s Hawaii travel is much tougher than you might think,” said Cheryl Temple, a former mayor of the town of Orting in Washington State who is currently on Kauai, one of the islands.

A throng of delivery riders at a McDonald's in Bogor, Indonesia, on Wednesday. The country has one of the highest coronavirus caseloads in Asia and has seen a surge of infections in recent weeks.
A throng of delivery riders at a McDonald’s in Bogor, Indonesia, on Wednesday. The country has one of the highest coronavirus caseloads in Asia and has seen a surge of infections in recent weeks.Credit…Aditya Aji/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Several McDonald’s outlets in Indonesia were forced to close this week after a special “BTS Meal,” named for the wildly popular Korean boy band, drew crowds of delivery drivers that violated safe distancing measures, the police said.

On Wednesday, the first day that the limited edition meal was available, a rush of orders was placed — but because of Covid-19, most were made online. That resulted in flocks of motorcycle delivery drivers showing up at outlets across Indonesia, with most of the restaurants unprepared to manage the turnout.

In Jakarta, the capital, the police said on Wednesday that they had temporarily closed 32 McDonald’s outlets “because they were found to have violated health protocols,” including limiting capacity to 50 percent and avoiding crowds.

The BTS Meal consists of nine chicken nuggets, two sauces, medium fries and a drink, and comes in a box with a purple logo. Introduced in nearly 50 other countries, it is available in Indonesia until next month.

But because nearly anything related to BTS provokes a frenzy, there have been concerns that the introduction of the meal could draw crowds in some Asian countries where coronavirus cases have risen recently and where vaccination levels remain relatively low. The meal’s rollout in Singapore was delayed last month after the government tightened distancing rules, including a ban on dining in restaurants.

Indonesia, which has one of the highest coronavirus caseloads in Asia, has seen a surge of infections in recent weeks as more people gathered and traveled during Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. New daily cases have risen 26 percent over the last two weeks, and only 4 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, according to a New York Times database.

Indonesian fans of the Korean band have acknowledged that delivery drivers faced long lines and possible exposure to the coronavirus to bring them their BTS Meal. Online message groups have called on customers to reward drivers with handsome tips. On Kitabisa, a crowdfunding site, several initiatives are raising money for drivers and their families.

One user named Vanessa Egas asked for donations to reach a target of 25 million rupiah, about $1,750, to “repay the kindness of our brother drivers who stood in line for hours to deliver the BTS Meal.” By Friday, she had surpassed that goal and begun to disburse the funds, according to the website.

Leave a Reply